SECTION NINE
SM
COLUMN FORTY-NINE, SEPTEMBER 1, 1999
(Copyright 1999 Al Aronowitz)

PART 4: A METAPHYSICAL AND ANECDOTAL CONSIDERATION OF THE FART

The fart and sex come together in a more usual way in an erotic poem called Haiku: Safe Sex, by Zero Hopeloff.  It is published in the magazine Quarterly, #22, Summer 1992, by Vintage books.  I like this poem.  It has a Zen quality about it that opens new frontiers of reflection on the dialectics of relationships.  It reads:

The slub of your tongue
flush against my loosened seam---
I will try not to fart.

I assume the whole point of the poem is to stop trying.  Just let it go.  Relax!  Let nature flow through.  The harder you try, the less powerful you are.  I can see the teeth gritting in the line, "I will try not to fart." 

And then the release, the freedom that comes with the realization we are accepted in love, accepted by our lover.  Man, such sensibility in only three lines.

But do these three lines compare with lines written by the master of haiku, the Japanese poet, Kobayashi Issa?  In a unique translation of a fart poem to English, David G. Lanoue convinces me Issa is the master.  You decide.  

blown
away
by
the
horse's
fart
firefly

Certainly other examples of poetry from the history of English literature could be cited.  How many of us can recall the little verse we learned in childhood about the glory and wonder of beans?

"Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot, the more you toot, the better you feel, so let's have beans at every meal."

There is also a variation that goes, "Beans, beans, good for the heart, the more you eat the more you. . ."  You get the point.

Little did we know as children about the power and symbolism of beans.  If we had read, then, The White Goddess by Robert Graves, we would have known that beans were filled with wondrous powers and ought not be mocked.  Graves tells us in his book that the Pythagorean mystics were bound by a strong taboo against eating beans.  To eat beans was to eat one's parents' heads.  This superstition was similar to the views held by the Platonists.  They excluded beans on the rationalistic ground that they caused flatulence.  Life, they argued, was breath, and to break wind after eating beans was proof one had eaten a living soul.  What would these philosophers have made of a product like Beano, a product that prevents farts?  If one ate beans with Beano, would that be a kind of spiritual abortion?  Maybe this is an example of the fart cutting both ways.

Rugby songs for adults, with their catchy words and tunes, are often as popular as those little songs about beans we sang in childhood.  Long famous for their sexual references, rugby songs have been known also to include references to the fart.  One of my fondest memories of being a young woman is sitting on a mountain in Wales drinking hard cider with my English friends and singing verses from such songs.  It seemed as if you could see all of England from that vantage point and that our voices would be broadcast around the globe.  For those interested, a fine book called, Why Was He Born So Beautiful and Other Rugby Songs, by Sphere Books, Great Britain, 1967, with a preface by Michael Green, offers many examples of such songs.  I modestly present two here; the first is a couplet from, The Ball of Kerrymuir that has the memorable lines,

The chimney sweep he was there,
They had to throw him out,
For every time he passed his wind
The room was filled with soot.

The second is from a little song called, Life Presents a Dismal Picture.

Even now the baby's started
Having epileptic fits,
Every time it coughs it spews
Every time it farts it shits.

Finally, what would any song feast be like without a limerick?  We used to especially enjoy the following:

There was a young poet named Martin,
Whose life was very Spartan
For lunch he'd eat greens,
For supper baked beans,
Then look for a field to fart in.


there are few good
books or essays
totally devoted to the fart


Even though the fart is so important in human history, one soon discovers there are few good books or essays totally devoted to it.  The above book makes only slight reference to what is the major concern of this essay.  After reviewing the literature, I recommend the following as more dedicated.  Dan Sabbath and Mandel Hall's book, End Product, is a treasure of fecal and gaseous anecdotes.  Perhaps the classic piece about the fart and its effects in English literature is the work, 1601, Conversations as it was by the social fireside in the time of the Tudors, by Mark Twain.

In this elegant essay, Twain relates how a discussion around a fire eventually comes to the question of who farted in the presence of the Queen.

"In ye heat of ye talk it befel yt one did breake wind, yielding an exceding mightie and distresfull stink, whereat all did laugh full sore. . . Sr. Walter Raleigh finally admits, "Most gracious magisty, 'twas I that did it, but indeed it was so poor and frail a note, compared with such as I am wont to furnish, yt in sooth I was ashamed to call the weakling mine. . .then delivered he himself of such a godless and rockshivering blast it did come so dense and full a stink that that which went before did seem a poor and trifling thing beside it."

Twain knew that in a democracy, one need not bow before any man or woman, and if we do, what better comment to make about parasitical royalty than while bowing, to fart.

In 1973, and Books (sic) of South Bend, Indiana, published a pamphlet by Cannum called, On Farts.  This illustrated booklet has sections on the types and degrees of fart odors and an especially helpful section on the atmospheric spreading effects of farts.  The author also has suggestions for dealing with farts in bed.  Her remedy for dealing with farts trapped under blankets---using the leg to create an escape tunnel---should be more widely known.

Just in time for the Holiday Season, Bastien Publications, Des Plaines, IL has come out with what they call The Ideal Stocking Stuffer for Farters.  It is a paper titled Farters News.  When you purchase the paper you receive free a lifetime membership card for the person of your choice to Farters Anonymous.  In light of the thesis of my essay, this may seem a bit redundant, since I do argue most farters are anonymous or should aim to be so, but nevertheless both items can be obtained for the small sum of only $9.95.

To bring our references of the fart up to date, I am compelled to add a report about the Conference on College Composition and Communication that took place at Chicago's Palmer House Hotel in March 1990.  Many English teachers go to these conferences to get out of their small university towns and have a gas in the big city, but one can also learn something about the direction the winds of academia are blowing by watching and listening.  According to the Chicago poetry newsletter, Letter eX, the poet X.J. Kennedy read a poem at a conference session called "Ode" in which he addressed his asshole.  One section of the poem dealt with what he called, "The Cave of the Winds." It is good to hear the conference was not fart free.

The report about the Conference on College Composition and Communication reminded me of a joke I had heard earlier.  Why don't little girls fart?  Because they don't get assholes till they're married.  Could this be the reason why some poets don't fart either?  They only become assholes when they become critics.

Little girls and women don't get off so easily elsewhere.  One commentator, the outrageous comedian Gallagher, whose shows are legendary for the physical abuse he heaps upon his audience, remarked recently on his cable TV special, "Women can't keep a secret, but they can hold a fart.  So, if you ever want to tell a women a secret, whisper in their ass."

In order to increase the body of serious literature on the fart, I likewise composed a short poem on the subject of farting, inspired by Montaigne's insightful anecdote and its intellectual consequence.  I include it at this point in my essay for your enjoyment.

             Philosophy
            Our science shows the thing apart,
            the thing entire is grasped by art.
            But how to live, by mind or heart---
            that is the same for us as Metrocles,
            who was converted by a fart.

This mention of philosophy makes me remember that, while I was in college, I had a philosophy class in which we seriously considered for a time why it is that we have the social convention of coughing to get someone's attention, but not farting.  Imagine what kind of society it would be if we were to come into a room, and it was accepted that we could announce our presence by a fart?  Certainly this would be a more just society, and one that would have probably saved the life of an unfortunate Argentinean doctor.

We live, however, in a different world than the one imagined in a philosophy class. It is a world that is still deficient in its anal vocabulary.  Just think of all the expressions, like, "to clear one's throat," that relate to expulsion of air from the mouth.  There is nothing to compare to these expression for the nether regions.  Of course we can say "juicy fart" or "smelly fart" or "old fart," but there are many more anal phenomenon and sensations that lack a proper diction.  Consider for a moment that unique sensation of having a turd stuck in your asshole.  Or maybe it's a fart that won't escape.  Nevertheless, our language is deficient in that it lacks a word for this particular sensation.  We can't use the expression, "Stuck up," because that already relates to another type of deficiency.  Perhaps someone with more talent than I will dedicate their life to the fundamental problem of increasing our anal vocabulary.

Before they do that, however, a note of caution.  The expression "old fart" ought to be used with care.  Recently, a District of Columbia judge awarded a 54-year-old man $400.000.00 in damages in his age-discrimination lawsuit against his former employer.  According to the plaintiff, his supervisor continually made references to his age, including addressing him as an "old fart."  It looks like we are going have to put our heads together and come up with some better terms.  Failing that, be prepared to pay dearly for your insults.

Maybe that should be the calling of Larry Kramer, the New York playwright.  The last time I read an article by him in the Chicago newspaper, Windy City Times, his writing was filled with words like "shithead," "fuckhead," etc.  His subtext was such a torrential rain of invectives using anal and genital references as to convince anyone that the man loathed all bodily excretion.  He never once used the word, "fart," however.

Perhaps Kramer should take a lesson from Florence King.  In her new book, Lump It or Leave It, she harkens back to Rabelais and is creative enough to refer to children as "fartlings."  Maybe if we call it to Kramer's attention, he can turn his talents to exploring the fundamental area of our anatomy and help create a proper diction to celebrate the fart.

Until then, all I have to offer are the few verses above.  They are as inspired as I can make them, on a windy afternoon in August, contemplating my bowl of cabbage and beans. I hope they point to the role of the fart in the study of metaphysics and teach us the unique, human lesson of the fart: we learn how to live from our minds as well as our bodies.  Pray that such knowledge is never lost.

If we cannot learn this lesson, then maybe we can at least be polite.  To make this point I rely on an example from the Chicago newspaper, Windy City Times.  In a penetrating article on the difference between a "Daddy" and a "Dad" (a title much debated in the gay community and sometime modified by the adjective "sugar"), the columnist "G" writes, "Dad never understood that farting was noxious and impolite. . ..he would galumph across the living room in front of guests and relatives, erupting like a string of underwater volcanoes.  The resulting jetstream would invariably cause you to flee outdoors.  Daddy, on the other hand, never farts out loud.  He is a well-disciplined slow leaker, careful never to draw attention to his gentle zephyrs.  Not even a Mexican combination platter perturbs his gastronomical sang froid."  Men and women everywhere should heed this sound advice and act accordingly.  ##  

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